When the San Jose Earthquakes acquired goalkeeper Jon Busch during the first week of the MLS season, coach Frank Yallop and general manager John Doyle said they wanted to push incumbent Joe Cannon.
That competition has officially turned white-hot after Busch stepped in Friday night for his first MLS action with the Quakes and put up a clean sheet on the road against defending champions Real Salt Lake.
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That’s the same RSL side which blitzed the Quakes 3-0 in the season opener, days before Busch arrived after being cut by the Chicago Fire. It was also the same RSL squad that averaged 2.5 goals per match through its first six games at Rio Tinto Stadium.
In other words, not a bad debut for Busch -- one that’s sure to ignite debate over who should be the Quakes’ No. 1 keeper.
“This is what you get paid to do,” Busch said. “You get paid to be prepared. You never know what’s going to happen at any point of the season. You never know when you’re going to get your opportunity.”
Actually, we do know one thing: Yallop was pleased enough with Busch’s work that he said the 33-year-old will “most probably” be back in the nets against D.C. United next weekend. Beyond that, however, Yallop wouldn’t commit to anything.
“Jon’s shown over the years that he’s good in MLS,” Yallop said. “Sometimes you get to use those (backups). He did very well.”
Punching away a dangerous corner kick by Javier Morales in the sixth minute helped settle down Busch, who had been told about the starting role earlier in the week.
In the 40th minute, Busch stoned RSL midfielder Will Johnson, who had been sprung by Fabian Espindola, a primary Quakes tormentor.
That turned out to be Busch’s only official save, although he was constantly in motion, either going after crosses or, as in the 76th minute, making a well-timed charge to gobble up a through ball which was being eyed hungrily by Espindola.
“I just did my job,” Busch said. “My job is to make saves and catch crosses. Credit to the guys in front of me, they did a tremendous job blocking shots and putting bodies in the way. They made it easy for me. I didn’t have to do too much.”
Yallop said only that it was a “coach’s decision” to bench Cannon, who started out hot this season with five shutouts in his first eight matches. But there were some noticeable communication slipups between Cannon and his defenders in the Quakes’ run-up to the World Cup break -- when they lost twice and drew at home.
With Busch, who is rarely (if ever) silent between the posts, the Quakes were able to keep their new back-four alignment -- rookie Ike Opara and Bobby Burling in the middle, with Jason Hernandez moving wide right -- in good order all evening.
“Jon Busch had us all in tune for the whole 90 minutes,” Opara said. “He kept us sharp. He didn’t really have to make a game-changing save tonight, but I think for him it was good to get that kind of result. We’ll see what the situation is moving forward.”
There was a little humor in the timing of the move, given that Busch was moved to call Real Salt Lake “my daddy” in April after he failed to come up with a save in RSL’s shootout win against the Quakes during U.S. Open Cup qualifying. Busch also came up empty in a similar situation with Chicago in the semifinals of last season’s MLS Cup Playoffs against RSL.
Now, shutting out the defending champs could be Busch’s launching pad in his bid to wrest the top spot from Cannon, who started 69 of the Quakes’ first 71 matches since being re-established in 2008 and holds every franchise goalkeeping record of note.
“I’ve never said I need to be the No. 1 goalkeeper,” Busch said. “I think a goalkeeper needs to prove it game in and game out, and day in and day out in training. If Frank wants to name me for next weekend, fantastic. But I never look ahead of one game at a time. I have to prove myself every game.”
Geoff Lepper covers the Earthquakes for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @sjquakes